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Associate English professor Laura Jean Baker wove words and phrases collected last week from 20 University of Wisconsin Oshkosh first-generation students into a poem that captures and celebrates their experiences. 


I am like a wolf in sheep’s clothes, or am I
a sheep in wolf’s clothes?
Better yet, a shepherd—proud, independent, brave,
resilient, strong, daring, ambitious, courageous,
loyal leader to this flock of farmers, factory workers,
laborers, immigrants coming to America, a journey
for the promise of—
a better and potentially more prosperous future
in towns, cities, universities, halls, and towers.
Hear me howl, hear me bleat, see me lead.

Sometimes I wonder, is this new territory forbidden?
Treading uphill at dusk, I am in over my head
on this overgrown path, a strenuous climb
away from our parents’ homes—and their parents’
homes. I search for lucky stars. Everyone seems
to grasp rules, expectations, and regulations.
Except us.
It becomes apparent how unprepared we truly are.
Breaking the cycle is like scaling the night sky
without moonlight or a ladder.

In which hand am I supposed to grasp this shepherd’s crook?
Even the mighty Atlas would quiver with this weight
on his shoulders. But we are the warriors our parents
equipped us to be. Resilience begets equilibrium.
Steady on that rock. Easy up that hill.
To our parents, your struggles were not in vain. To our children,
it’s never too late. To our siblings, follow us.
Don’t let our carefree facades fool you. Every day on campus is proof
of our perseverance. Go Mighty Titans; do it for your
forefathers-families-farms-forests-native lands.

And for yourselves.

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